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NASA names headquarters after 'Hidden Figure' Mary W. Jackson

Mary was a pivotal player in helping US astronauts reach space

mary jackson
June 26, 2020
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NASA has named its Washington D.C headquarters after 'Hidden Figure' Mary W. Jackson, the organisations first ever black female engineer and a pivotal member of NASA's team who helped to get American astronauts into space. Her life was immortalised in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures, telling the incredible story of three brilliant African-American women who worked at NASA in the 1950s, including Mary (played by Janelle Monae), Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan. 

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mary jackson nasa© NASA

Mary's incredible career at NASA spanned three decades

Mary’s daughter Carolyn Lewis said: "We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson. She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation." 

Mary started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency's Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, went on to lead programmes influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA's science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

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janelle monae hidden figures

Janelle Monae played Mary W Jackson in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures

"Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology," said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. "We proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on 'Hidden Figures Way,' a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA's history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognise the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA's successful history of exploration possible." 

mary jackson nasa career© NASA

Mary was a pivotal player at NASA, and helped prepare astronaut John Glenn's 1962 mission

Mary was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia. In 1951, she was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958 was succeeded by NASA. She started as a research mathematician who became known as one of the human computers at Langley. She worked under fellow 'Hidden Figure' Dorothy Vaughan in the segregated West Area Computing Unit before receiving an offer to work in the 4x4 foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Her supervisor eventually suggested Mary enter a training programme that would allow Jackson to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Because the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, Jackson needed special permission to join her white peers in the classroom. In 1958, she became NASA's first black female engineer.

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